Can You Put A Pricetag On Umby?

Last week, Dan asked a question as part of his Scott Howson follow up. Then the Dispatch repeated it a bit louder, starting a bit of a buzz in the Jackets' community. 

R.J. Umberger could, in theory, sign an extension with the Jackets starting July 1st, prior to the last year of the 4 year, $15 million deal he signed after being acquired from Philadelphia. But as much as he loves Columbus, he still wants to win.

It's time to ask, what will it take to keep him here?

First, before the alarm bells ring too loudly, I think the fact that R.J. chose to have this exchange with the Dispatch, and to speak candidly about his thoughts, is a good sign. He's talked about "seeing what's possible", and it's clear he's had some serious discussions with both Howson and Arniel about what he wants to see this team do, and how he wants to be a part of that. 

He's talked about the disappointment of the last two years, and it's clear that he shares a lot of frustrations with the fans and the front office. But at the same time, well, let's look at how he put things, in his own words:

"The last two years have been disappointing," Umberger said. "No other way to say it, really. It's causing everybody to look deep into the issue of why we're not making the playoffs. Some real changes will be made this summer. We can't afford as an organization to take any more time."

There's a key word in that paragraph, and it's one that should give CBJ fans a lot of hope. That key word? We.

I want you to think back to, say, when Adam Foote left. It's a similar situation - a respected veteran who could be a key component to the roster, up for a new extension, and weighing his options. How often did you hear Adam Foote say "We" during the last year or two of his time in Columbus?

He wants to win, yes, but he also feels that he is still a part of this team, and that they can do it. Anyone who has talked to him can feel his desire to find success here, and how much this community means to him. 

From a practical side, I think you also have to consider the Jackets' side of this. The catchphrase among a large segment of the fans this offseason has become "LOFT", referring to the team's talent level (or lack thereof). While I think the discussion doesn't account for everything properly, it's a decent enough concept, and easy enough to explain.

How, then, is fixing the LOFT problem served by letting the 2nd best player on the team leave? Answer: It isn't. There are plenty of guys who are likely to turn over, but if I'm Scott Howson, one of my top priorities - possibly the highest priority - is meeting the conditions needed to get Umberger signed to another 3-4 year deal. (Remember, RJ is 28, and we've discussed before that a lot of forwards tend to hit a downslope after the age of 32. This is a sweet spot in his career.)

So, what is likely to be involved?

The Roster:

As has been mentioned repeatedly, the team needs help at the blue line, and arguably goaltending as well. We must assume that Scott Howson already has plans on working towards this, given the tone of post-season comments from staff and players, and I expect we'll see them work out over the next three months. We'll take as given that this will NOT be the same Jackets' team who took the ice the last two seasons. 

Only if Howson fails to make significant moves do I see Umberger refusing to come to the table, and in that situation, I think a lot of fans could understand why.

That leads us to the next part of the equation....

The Money:

Not many people would argue about R.J. and Rick Nash being the two best forwards on the team right now, but you might be surprised to learn how he stacks up against other NHLers.

If we look at him as a Left Winger (which is where he's clearly most comfortable - his stints at Center have been short and frequently frustrating), and compare him to other left wings since he joined the Blue Jackets, he came in at #33 in 2008-2009 in overall points, #19 in 2009-2010, and #15 this season. His biggest flaw, so far, has been his defensive play (his -16 was the worst in the top 20 in '09-'10), but it appears that he's been working to improve that, both from his +3 rating this season and his three short handed goals, which put him #2 among LWs behind only Jamie Benn of the Stars.

He's been a consistent contributor to the Jackets' power play unit with 9 goals in '08-09 and 8 goals the two past seasons, which puts him just outside the top 10 among LWs, and if you look at his stats this year, he sits in an interesting list of peers by both scoring ability and age:

Name

GP

G

A

PTS

+/-

PIM

PP

SH

Age

Cap Hit

D. Sedin

82

41

63

104

30

32

18

0

30

6.1

H. Zetterberg

80

24

56

80

-1

40

10

0

30

6.1

P. Sharp

74

34

37

71

-1

38

10

2

29

3.9

I. Kovalchuk

81

31

29

60

-26

28

9

0

28

6.66

RJ Umberger

82

25

32

57

3

38

8

3

28

3.75

R. Clowe

75

24

38

62

13

100

5

0

28

3.625

T. Vanek

80

32

41

73

2

24

11

0

27

7.14

A. Semin

65

28

26

54

22

71

6

1

27

6.0

C. MacArthur

82

21

41

62

-4

16

7

1

26

1.1

Of this group, only MacArthur is coming up for a new deal immediately, as he'll be a UFA on July 1st, so it might be worth watching what happens to his next contract, but unlike Umberger, he's coming off only one really strong year of NHL level performance, compared to Umberger's strong and clear curve of improvement in his second NHL deal.

While it's not likely that he'll want Ilya Kovalchuck style money, Patrick Sharp is a strong chance of being a comparable, as is Ryane Clowe.

However, I think there's one player just outside this group that Umberger's agent is very likely to point out - Patrick Marleau. A big bodied winger who plays a bit of center, plays hard every night, is an emotional leader for his club, well respected in his community, drives to the net, and usually spends a lot of time matching up against a team's top line. Sounds awfully familiar, doesn't it?

Here's a look at the two over the past three years.

Umberger:

2008-2009

82

26

20

46

-10

53

9

0

2009-2010

82

23

32

55

-16

40

8

1

2010-2011

82

25

32

57

3

38

8

3

Marleau:

2008-2009

76

38

33

71

16

18

11

5

2009-2010

82

44

39

83

21

22

12

4

2010-2011

82

37

36

73

-3

16

11

2

It's obvious that Marleau is more of a goal scoring threat, but it's also worth considering that Marleau also played with Dany Heatley, Joe Thornton, Devin Setoguchi, Logan Couture, etx. (Not to mention support on the blue line from guys like Dan Boyle, Rob Blake, Douglas Murray...I could go on.)

Though Umberger plays with Rick Nash on the power play, and occasionally at even strength, he's more typicially seen on the second line, particularly under Scott Arniel, and even on the occasions where the two are paired together, it's rare for them to play with a pivot of equal caliber (though we continue to hope that Johansen, Brassard, Vermette, et al will raise their game.)

On that second line, his quality of linemate is irregular at best, and frequently juggled. Would keeping a stable line with a higher talent level together for a full season add another 5-10 points to his game? Would improved PPQBs give him the opportunity to redirect more opportunities at the front of the net, where both men earn their bread and butter? Almost certainly.

While a contract with a $6.9 million cap hit, similar to Marleau's, is unlikely, it's clear that his continued development as a top NHL winger puts him on a higher tier than his current salary. 

A three year deal with a cap hit between 4.5 and 5 million dollars would still provide an increased paycheck out of respect to his increased performance (and promise of continued impact), but wouldn't put an expectation of delivering Sedin / Zetterberg / Semin level numbers as a $6+ million cap hit would.

While it's difficult to speculate on WHERE the money will come from until Howson completes his retooling, I could certainly argue that taking part of $4 million coming off the books from Chris Clark and Ethan Moreau and applying it in the ledger towards keeping Umberger on board seems like a wise investment.

X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join The Cannon

You must be a member of The Cannon to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at The Cannon. You should read them.

Join The Cannon

You must be a member of The Cannon to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at The Cannon. You should read them.

Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.

tracking_pixel_9355_tracker